It’s a typical Wednesday evening in Nairobi and my friends and I have met up in Westlands for a bi-weekly catch up. It’s a cool joint, devoid of noise and off the main road to town. As we chat away and sip on our cocktails, one of Chantelle’s favorite songs plays on MTV Base. It’s Vanessa Mdee‘s “Never Ever”, a jam that’s on high circulation across the continent. As she hums along to the hit song while watching the sexy music video, almost oblivious of our presence.
Once the song has ended, she’s like,
“Oh, sorry! I looove, loove Mdee. She’s like bae! I mean, she looks so graceful in this video,” she quips.
I then tell her that the montage was put together by my favorite African videographer, Justin Campos. I reveal to her that most of her favorite music videos have been filmed by him. Her facial expression hints inspiration and curiosity, prompting me to tell her that I’ll do an interview with Justin so that she knows more about her. That made her evening.
This was back in early December 2015. The promise became real and yeah, I did it!
Justin is the brainchild behind Gorilla Films, a South Africa based videography services company. Together with his beautiful wife, Candice Campos. She is so good at writing, art directing, producing as well as photography. The couple has achieved loads of success in as much as they are balancing work with raising their 5-year-old daughter Gabi.
His portfolio is the most impressive you’ll ever see. He has worked with Davido, Sauti Sol, Navy Kenzo, Ace Hood, Sarkodie, Wizkid, R2Bees, Chege, Joh Makini, AKA and other globally acclaimed musical acts. When I discovered him, he came across as a hard working, highly professional, visionary and a responsible dad. That’s why he puts family first.
A couple weeks ago, I realized that American Music video director Hannah Lux Davis – who has worked with Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, The Weeknd and other Hollywood celebrities – is one of his favorite music video creators. I have an interview with her coming up so keep it locked.
For Justin, success is all about pressing on despite difficulties, and more importantly upholding commitment. Read on to learn more from this amazing guy, who has shot videos with millions of views.
Me: Tell us a little about yourself Justin. When did you start videography?
Justin: I started when I was 20, some years back.
Me: You’ve worked with the best of the best in Africa. From Davido to Vanessa Mdee, they all love your work. What’s your greatest success secret?
Justin: Passion, dedication, humility, willpower, self-belief. Never ever give up!
Me: I know you’ve been on a journey to success like everyone stellar out there. How’s it been? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Justin: My biggest challenge was keeping in the game. I’ve been in the game for 20 years, and at times I found myself lacking motivation due to the volume of production being too much. Dividing myself amongst too many videos. This has since changed, as I don’t say ‘yes’ to all projects. I focus on one project at a time.
Me: You’ve worked with international artistes too, one being rapper Ace Hood. How did you ensure that you met their expectations?
Justin: This was nerve-racking. But I treated it as nothing different, which is to say I dedicate 100% to every project, and this is no different if I’m dedicating 100% too. Yes, it was amazing and daunting to work with Ace Hood, but I found new trust in myself, as I didn’t freak out, nor did it affect the way I do videos.
We also had a lower budget than what I would assume Ace is used to, which was a challenge. Shooting in the US is more expensive than in Africa. I had none of my resources at my disposal, so that was a challenge too, since I knew no-one for crew, makeup etc, etc. To make it more interesting, I was told we only had 3 hours with Ace, and had to make it work.
I didn’t let their expectations (whatever they might have been) get in the way of doing what I wanted to do for Sarkodie. That would’ve distracted me, and probably cause me to under perform, worrying about things like that. I stayed focused and marched on.
Me: You have a family Justin. A beautiful wife and a kid. How do you balance your crazy schedule with your work obligations?
Justin: Balance is not easy, but vitally important! I try to start and stop at the same time every day if the current project permits, so that I have time with my daughter. So I stop at dinner time, and take Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, and most weekends I don’t work at all if I can get away with it.
I work closely with my wife, so we see each other a lot, and although that has its challenges, I’m happy with it.
Yes, it was amazing and daunting to work with Ace Hood, but I found new trust in myself, as I didn’t freak out, nor did it affect the way I do videos.
Me: You recently worked with Shaa, a Tanzanian musician. This is not the first time you’ve worked with an East African artiste but hey, the video was really dope. How did you manage to come up with the Swahili themed montage so effortlessly?
Justin: All credit goes to my wife, Candice. She and Shaa went back and forth to develop the style, look and feel. It was my job then to make it all come through visually — the direction and cinematography.
Me: All of your videos make it to MTV Base and other top television networks across Africa. It’s because of the hard work and the creative input you employ in your projects. How would you advise your fellow upcoming videographers to ensure that their work is up to international standards?
Justin: The best advice I can give, is to aim as high as you can. Tell interesting stories, study international videos visually, and keep trying. I always asked myself what my visuals were lacking, what makes a good looking video, and if you persistent enough you will get there. Colour palettes are often neglected, but harmony in colour goes along way to appeal to people, along with concept, cinematography, performance and editing. All aspects making a video should be on point, not just using a great camera.
Me: Music video shoots are a mystery to many people out there. Can you outline the process you go through to come up with the concept to shooting to final editing?
Justin: Once the artist writes a song, it has an idea already built in. Sometimes the artist gives us a basic outline of of what they were seeing happen in their head, sometimes we come up with the concept ourselves and pitch it to the artist. A video can be directly related to the song, but can also just be eye candy, not necessarily a storyline, just being a visual medium of escape for the viewer.
Once the concept is approved, we quote on everything needed to make it happen (locations, extras, models, cars, actors, equipment, etc etc) and once thats approved we set a date.
We visit the locations and do a recce, and make sure we are happy with the location, and check for things like electricity options, access, facilities etc etc, so that we don’t have any surprises on the shoot day.
We bring in a stylist/wardrobe/designer of the artists choice and brief them on wardrobe and styling based on the direction on feel of the video already established, mainly by Candice 🙂
The wardrobe styling process is then put into action, tailor-made to specification of art direction, artist’s/dancers/actor etc sizes and requirements.
If any rehearsals with dancers or actors are needed, that is done a few days prior to the shoot date.
On the shoot day, it gets hectic. Time is money, and it gets real! We get through the shoot and everybody feels relieved, a sense of achievement. Then comes the edit. I have an editor that gets briefed and given the concept. He begins the edit. Once thats done I receive the edit refine it.
Next step is a colour grade where I do colour corrections and grading to enhance the look and feel.
I then send a link to the client to view and if they are blown away, we lock it down and prepare final masters to station channels! If there are changes, we make the necessary adjustments and go back and forth with client until they’re happy. That’s it!
Me: Many young people out there would want to achieve their dreams but they do not have the resources to do so. How do you advise them to go about it?
Justin: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Go for it, don’t accept ‘no’…find a way, practice, beg for a chance, find a way. You can do it!
Here’s his 2016 REEL
Check out more of their photos at work: